Saturday, January 14, 2017

Diana talks to... Jacqueline Reiter




Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century political history from the University of Cambridge. Born into a diplomatic family, she has long looked upon history as a fixed point of reference in a peripatetic life. A professional librarian, she lives in Oxford with her husband and two children.
Her exciting book about John Pitt has just been released by Pen and Sword books The Late Lord and is available from them now or is available to pre order from Amazon.
"John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham is one of the most enigmatic and overlooked figures of early nineteenth century British history. The elder brother of Pitt the Younger, he has long been consigned to history as 'the late Lord Chatham', the lazy commander-in-chief of the 1809 Walcheren expedition, whose inactivity and incompetence turned what should have been an easy victory into a disaster. Chatham's poor reputation obscures a fascinating and complex man. During a twenty-year career at the heart of government, he served in several important cabinet posts such as First Lord of the Admiralty and Master-General of the Ordnance. Yet despite his closeness to the Prime Minister and friendship with the Royal Family, political rivalries and private tragedy hampered his ascendance. Paradoxically for a man of widely admired diplomatic skills, his downfall owed as much to his personal insecurities and penchant for making enemies as it did to military failure. Using a variety of manuscript sources to tease Chatham from the records, this biography peels away the myths and places him for the first time in proper familial, political, and military context. It breathes life into a much-maligned member of one of Britain's greatest political dynasties, revealing a deeply flawed man trapped in the shadow of his illustrious relatives."

Hi Jacqueline, I am so delighted you have agreed to talk to me! and I am equally sure that you are tired of being asked the usual interview questions, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it! Gosh. Ask the hard ones first, why don’t you? All right. Could you ever see yourself writing something other than history? – Honestly? No. I’ve always written stuff, but was pretty aimless and random until history dropped on me like a ton of bricks at the age of 11. I spent three happy years reading about the English Civil Wars and Charles II until I discovered, in quick succession, the 18th century and political history. That was over twenty years ago (gah) and I frankly can’t see me moving on any time soon.

If your latest book, The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Pen & Sword History, 2017) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? It would have to be a documentary, unless someone decided to make a biopic รก la “The Duchess” or “The Imitation Game”. Either way, Lord C would have to be played by someone tall, thin and dark. Matthew Goode would be a pretty good fit, if he is capable of playing “anti-hero” adequately. (Eddie Redmayne has been “cast” as Chatham’s brother William Pitt the Younger in my head for a long time now.)

What made you choose this genre? I’ve always written both fiction and non-fiction in tandem: I have written four dissertations over the past fifteen years (one 70k, two 30k and one 10k), all while attempting to hammer out a novel or two. When I finally finished my novel, I submitted it to a publisher at the recommendation of a friend. The publisher told me they liked it, but didn’t publish fiction: if I was willing to turn it into a non-fiction book, however, they would consider it. I wrote up a proposal, they liked that too, and the rest is – quite literally – history.

I often say I don’t think there’s much difference between good historical fiction and good historical non-fiction, apart from the referencing. Both should be built on the same sources, both should tell an interesting story, and both should be relevant and instructive. Both require leaps of faith and calculated guesses: the non-fiction may, however, use “perhaps” a little more often.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters? I read until something or someone grabs me by the lapels and shouts at me to write. I can’t really explain what it is that attracts me. I have to have that “zing” or it simply won’t work.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind? I’m quite happy to stick in the history non-fiction genre, and I have a list of subjects I’d like to work on as long as my arm. A return to historical fiction would be an obvious one here. Perhaps a timeslip novel: as someone with a foot in both present and past, I do feel an affinity with those.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously? I already kind of answered this. Writing very definitely chose me. I can still remember covering reams of paper as a child and stapling them together into booklets. I wrote my first novel when I was 11. It was really, really, really bad. I tried to get a historical novel about Charles I published when I was 14, also pretty bad, although much better than the one I wrote when I was 11. My second attempt to get published was at the age of 18. I’ve finally got there at the age of 37.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? I’m indifferent. Wouldn’t choose it, but if offered a slice of bread with marmite on, I will happily eat it.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? I have small children, so have learned to write wherever/whenever. I get up at 5, make myself a great deal of coffee, drink it, and write as much as I can till 7 or the kids get up (whichever comes first). On writing days I then return to writing at 9:30. I’ve learned not to listen when my muse tells me he’s not in the mood: I kick him in the shins and usually he then behaves. It can be a drag, but hey, I wrote a book like this, so it works. I have no rituals as such, but, when I’m editing, I mark up my MS in pink pen. That’s the only real ritual I have.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters? I won’t lie – it’s always a wrench to tear myself away from the writing after I’ve spent so long immersed in another world. But if the house were burning down, I’d save the kids before my laptop. Probably.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job? Historical interpretation/living history. I’ve done it before and it’s so much fun.

Coffee or tea? Red or white? Both coffee and tea, although not simultaneously. By red or white, I presume you mean wine? I don’t drink, alas.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way? With “The Late Lord”, I had to write up a synopsis and a set of chapter headings for my proposal. That was pretty much the only plan I had. I did sketch out each chapter before writing it though.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? Something with serifs.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? OH MY GOD. You can’t ask a historian this question. It’s cruel. If I must answer, then let it be Lord Chatham’s correspondence with his wife. I know it existed once.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!? Not exactly, but I’ve often found Lord C saying and doing things he really shouldn’t be, according to the accepted historical record. Some of it I didn’t like much. Hey ho, the sources don’t lie (… or do they?).

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? Research isn’t quantifiable, but as my biography is the first ever written of Lord Chatham, we’ll go with “I had to do quite a lot”. Research trips are the best thing about historical research. This particular project took me to archives all over the UK, including London, Belfast and Edinburgh. I spent a week in Gibraltar (take me back!), and cycled twice with my husband to Holland to visit relevant historical sites.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters? Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have totally succumbed to “biographer’s Stockholm syndrome”. (I hope I’ve been balanced in my writing though!) I refer to Lord Chatham as “John” or “my boy” and have stopped worrying about it now. When he was four, my son announced, quite seriously, “John lives in our house. He’s Mummy’s friend and he’s dead.” Am hoping he never told his teacher about this interesting domestic arrangement.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Anything historical, really, either fiction or non-fiction.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book? Lord Chatham would recommend claret or sweet sherry. I wrote it fuelled by coffee, so that might give you a better flavour.

Last but not least... favourite author? Sharon Penman, Lindsey Davis or Terry Pratchett.

 Jacqueline, I have really enjoyed this. Thank you !!
 

© Diana Milne January 2017 © (Jacqueline Reiter, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Diana talks to Matthew Harffy


Matthew is very kindly donating an e- copy of any one of his three books to one lucky winner. To enter this competition, please leave a comment on the blog or on the Review post.

Hi Matthew, I am sorry I kept missing you at HNS16 ... whenever I glimpsed you, we were always rushing in opposite directions, so I am so happy to have caught up with you on line.
Hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have tried to come up with some unusual questions!

If your latest book, Blood and Blade, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
 

That’s a really difficult question. When I’m writing I don’t picture actors in any of the roles. However, if the Bernicia Chronicles ever make their way onto the screen, I hope they find an actor who has the intensity and physical presence to play Beobrand convincingly. He towers over most of his enemies and is a natural killer, but also has a reflective, tender side. I remember in the recent Rugby World Cup thinking that Dan Biggar from the Welsh team could portray Beobrand convincingly, at least from the physical aspect. I have no idea if he can act!

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

Anyone who knows me well knows I love Westerns and I have often talked about how I would love to write one. I don’t really have much of a plot, but I have written the first paragraphs of a story. The opening lines are:

“A man always remembers his first murder. Just like he always remembers his first visit to the whore house.”

Maybe one day I’ll finish it!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I don’t have any rituals. Each book seems to create its own soundtrack though. For The Serpent Sword, I listened to a lot of classical music and film scores, particularly The Lord of the Rings. Whilst writing The Cross and the Curse, I listened to a lot of nature sounds, predominantly thunderstorms and rain. If you’ve read that book you’ll see how that affected the plot. Or was it the plot that made me choose those sounds? More recently, I have been listening to Wardruna, a Norwegian ambient folk band. There are lots of nature sounds and indistinct chanting of runes in the music, giving a very unique atmosphere that sits well with the themes and ambience of the Bernicia Chronicles.

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

I think I would have to say Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. I had to read it at school and I really couldn’t get more than a few pages in without giving up. Horrible, dense prose with no discernible hook to interest me in the characters or the plot. There have been many other books I have not finished. I am a slow reader, and if I struggle with a story, I give up and move on. Life’s too short to trudge through boring books.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

Rock singer. I have sung in many bands over the years and I love to perform. I would have to be in a band though, as I really enjoy the camaraderie of being with like-minded people. Besides, I can’t play any instruments!

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Coffee and white wine. Red wine gives me migraines, which was very annoying when I lived in Spain for many years, which produces some of the best red wines in the world.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

A readable one! Actually, when I first self-published The Serpent Sword, I used a free font (Tallys) that was quite close in design to Jenson, the oldest Roman style typeface, that was created by Nicholas Jenson in the 15th century. It is very readable and yet gives a hint of the past in its form. (A wonderful font! If only I could get hold of an original set of it!)

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

I would love to be able to see the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf, and Bede. The Lindisfarne Gospels would be nice to have a flick through too!

Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?

No, though it is sometimes hard to know what to do with certain real life characters. I find it is often necessary to gloss over characters, as too many can lead to confusion of the plot. For example, King Edwin had a son that was captured at the battle of Hatfield Chase in 633. In The Serpent Sword, I chose not to mention this son at all, as he is later murdered in captivity and it would only have made things confusing. Now, when writing Killer of Kings, book four in the series, I wish I’d mentioned him, as I could have used him in the plot… ((Big smile here. I *know* that!!!))

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?

Oh yes. I always say story over history. My books are meant to entertain, so if I need to stray from the accepted path of fact, I will. Having said that, I try not to, and I always confess in the Historical Notes where I have deviated from the known history or filled gaps. One of the great things about writing about the so-called Dark Ages, is there are very few sources, and information is scarce, so it is quite easy to get away with most plot twists I come up with.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Not really. But I do often look at the world and think that fact is frequently stranger than fiction!

In the Bernicia Chronicles I am very conscious of the fact that I am not writing history. I am writing a fictional account of a past that could have occurred. I know things did not happen the way I portray them, but I always strive to create a plausible world. I think immersive historical fiction is all about authenticity, not accuracy.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I think I fell in love with Sunniva, Beobrand’s love interest, a bit. If you are creating a character you want your protagonist to fall in love with, perhaps you have to fall in love with them a bit too.

When it comes to hatred, well that is a bit more difficult. There are some truly despicable characters in my books, but whilst I would hate them if I met them in real life, I have created them, and therefore to some extent I love them too! If they are odious, they are great characters!

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

I like escapist, fast-paced thrillers and historical fiction, for the most part, but I will try anything. Lee Child and Bernard Cornwell are my go-to writers if I want to read something that really grips me.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

A rich, robust ale. Something with hints of fruit, but with a pleasant hoppy, bitterness.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?

Well, I’ve already mentioned Bernard Cornwell, so he’d have to be up there. However, I’d like to give an honourable mention to Conn Iggulden, Larry McMurtry and Patrick O’Brian.

 

Thanks for the thought-provoking questions, Diana. It’s been great fun.


 

© Diana Milne July 2016 © Matthew Harffy November 2016

 

Author info:

Matthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain. The first of the series, The Serpent Sword, was published by Aria/Head of Zeus on 1st June 2016. The sequel, The Cross and The Curse was released on 1st August 2016. Book three, Blood and Blade, is due for publication in December 2016.

The Serpent Sword, The Cross and the Curse and Blood and Blade are available on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and all good online bookstores.

Killer of Kings and Kin of Cain are available for pre-order on Amazon and all good online bookstores.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rob Reviews Clash of Empires by Paul Bennett

* The author has generously offered a copy of Clash of Empires, either ebook or paperback, to a lucky winner of the draw. To enter simply comment, either below or on our facebook page - good luck! *




“It’s as if the whole countryside is a tinderbox, ready to flare up. All that it’s waitin’ on is for someone to strike the flint to the kindling.”

Thanks to the wonders of social media I had the pleasure of making my acquaintance with the author through a mutual love of the written word. The author is an avid reader with his own blog page where he posts reviews (I’m lucky in having my own books reviewed by him). When I heard that he was working on his own project I was intrigued, even more so when I heard what the subject matter was and read some excerpts. For Clash of Empires is set during what is known in North America as the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763) but is better known in the UK as a theatre of the Seven Years’ War.  The French and Indian War could be seen as the spark that set in motion a global conflict between Britain and France (perhaps the real First World War) that dragged in other powers and colonial allies in a conflict fought in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In truth Europe was already a powder keg after the War of Austrian Succession, where different power blocks (Britain and France in opposing ones naturally!) had failed to satisfy their war aims.

North America at the onset of the French and Indian War - Wikipedia


By 1754 both the British and French empires in the Americas were well established.  However the British American colonies were hemmed in somewhat; they dominated the eastern seaboard but to the south was the Spanish colony of Florida while to the north was New France (Canada) which laid claim to vast swathes of the continent west of the colonies from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Families from the British Isles were encouraged to the New World with the promise of farm land cut from virgin forest. Of course this gave no account to the indigenous peoples who already lived there or to which far away king they gave their allegiance to.  British America wished to expand westwards while French America wished to contain them, each side courting Native American tribes with promises or gifts, while taking advantage of inter-tribal rivalry. Into this Clash of Empires the Author introduces us to the Mallorys.

Seeking freedom and opportunity the Thomas Mallory moves his family from Eastern Pennsylvania to the western frontier which puts them into the disputed territories. As well as Thomas and his wife Abigail we meet their children; Daniel, Elizabeth and Liam. The frontier is fluid and is a melting pot formed by the different nationalities of the colonists and the different tribes. Thomas, a farmer by necessity rather than calling, has a dream to open a trading post. With his family and assorted friends, as the beginnings of a community, they begin trading along the Kiskiminetas River. Rumour is rife along the frontier; there is talk that the French intend to crack down on what they view as British incursions whilst their Indian allies, the Shawnee, are always ready to raid settlements, as well as wage war against their long term enemies, the Mohawk.

Mohawk warriors


The Mohawk befriend the Mallorys, particular young Liam. Liam is a very adept hunter and leaves the family trading post to live with the tribe and learn their ways.  He proves himself in encounters with the Shawnee and is accepted by the tribe, marrying the Chief’s daughter, Orenda. However he makes a mortal enemy of the Shawnee called Chogan.  This animosity comes to a terrible conclusion when, preceding French military action Chogan leads a raid against the Mallory’s trading post. The family now find themselves at the frontline of a war that is all too personal.

Clash of Empires is  an enjoyable work of historical fiction. in its own right, but also very informative with regard to this theatre of the Seven Years War. This is brought about by the author's style whereby we experience the events around the characters in sharp focus and then the reader is drawn back to an overview of strategic events.  It could perhaps be compared to The Last of the Mohicans but it differs in as much as it gives us a detailed overview of the conduct of the war and its developing ramifications, without being a history lesson. Real historical characters are included such as, the capable Colonel (as was then) George Washington and the calamitous General Braddock, whose disastrous expedition is still debated about today. With Liam and Orenda’s storyline we have a tantalising glimpse of what might have been, if only a dialogue of mutual understanding and respect between peoples could have continued; how different would America’s society be today?


In Clash of Empires the reader is swept up into a brutal frontier war of honour and vengeance. But moreover within its pages we see a community, both macro and micro, beginning to assert itself as an entity in its own right; the beginnings of a nation. The seeds are planted and are set to bear fruit in the next book of the Mallory saga – The Sundering of Empire. This is one reader who can't wait!

About the Author:

Paul currently resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife, Daryl.
The three children have now all grown, turning Paul's beard gray in the process, and have now produced four grandchildren; the author is now going bald. You can read about his exploits in literature on his Blog.




Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Diana talks to ... Angela Rigley






Angela Rigley 

I play Scrabble online with Angela sometimes so it was lovely to catch up with her for a chat. Now, when I say I 'play Scrabble', what I actually mean is I almost always am thoroughly trounced whilst playing Scrabble with the best player I have ever had the pleasure of playing!!)

Hi Angela, I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

If your latest book Choices for Jamie was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

That’s a hard one, because in my latest book Choices for Jamie he is only 21 and Aidan Turner would be too old.
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

I want to try timeslip for my next project – something like Kath McGurl’s Emerald Comb.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I only write in silence, first thing in the morning, still in my nightie and dressing gown, with a cuppa at hand, to give my brain a break and pause when I have to think what’s coming next, or how to say something differently.


What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

 The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen, a Richard and Judy Club choice. I didn’t finish it. Each chapter was only 2 or 3 pages so it was choppy and disjointed. Point of view was all over the place and even in the same paragraphs we had different views. The eight-year old boy used long words that an eight-year old would not know; someone appeared who seemed, to me, anyway, to be her husband, but he couldn’t have been because her husband was dead; and there were several other things that riled me that I can’t remember. It was about 4 years ago.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I wish I had gone into nursing, but left it too late, but a gardener or a shepherd.
Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Tea always, as I don’t like alcohol.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

Garamond or Ariel. I’m judging a children’s writing competition at the moment and one of them has made her entry so fancy, it’s hard to read.
Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?

No. In Florence and the Highwayman, Florence meets William Wordsworth’s son, also William, but he’s still alive and kicking at the end of the story.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this ?
Not really. My stories don’t involve a lot of known facts, and I prefer to keep the ones I use accurate. Again, in Florence and the Highwayman, I had to do research on William Wordsworth and had to change the story because originally, William Jnr was travelling with his son, but I found out that his son died as an infant, so I changed it to his niece.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Occasionally, because fiction seems like fact, while you are reading it.
Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

Not ‘in love’, but I love Jamie as a son.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Historical romance mainly
 What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

It would be tea.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?

Kath McGurl at the moment, but I like Jane Austen, Jean M Auel, Phillipa Gregory.

Thank you Angela... see you later over the online Scrabble :)

Angela's books are available here

Biography: Hi, I, Angela Rigley, live in Derbyshire, England with my husband, Don, but was born in Sussex. I have five children and eight grandchildren. Educated at Alton Convent boarding school in Hampshire I have had various occupations, including owning a health food shop for 3 years, and working for the Civil Service. All my Jamie books are published by Bluewood Publishing. as is the latest book 'Lea Croft', a murder/mystery, also set in Victorian times. I self-published an anthology: 'My Book of Silly Poems and Things' and 'My Silly Poems for Kids' and also 'Nancie', a YA book about a girl who goes into service and hears noises in the attic. 'Florence and the Highwayman' is a romance and I have now branched out into children's books, 'Cal the Caveboy' and 'Baarlie the Naughty Lamb'. I love birdwatching and lambs; genealogy, having traced some of my family tree back to 1520; playing Scrabble; flower arranging; and singing in my church choir. Go to Nunkynoo to see some of my pictures.                            

Angela Rigley 18 August 2016 © Diana Milne July 2016 ©





























Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Emma Reviews Ninth Life

***Free author giveaway***  Please comment in the Comments below or on the Facebook  The Review Blog Page to be in the draw for a free copy of Ninth Life.



The Ninth Life




If you enjoy the crime mystery thriller genre, then this will most definitely  be a good read  for  you,  - even  if one of the opening viewpoints is from the Voice inside the head of the  protagonist!   Confused?  You won’t be …

The story is cleverly written in the sense the author has achieved something different.  Not easy to do these days but a joy to discover when you find it.  The whole book keeps the protagonist - hereafter called Kate   - centre stage whilst keeping the tension, the what-the-hell-happens-next  thread, going from beginning to end.

There is the Voice inside Kate’s head that is her instinct, her sub-conscious speaking  to  her to the point where the reader begins to wonder if Kate has mental health issues.  Actually, it doesn’t take long  to realise we’ve all got that Voice rattling around in our  consciousness at some point or other and this leads onto the reader  being in Kate’s head; her emotions become your emotions, her fears are palpable.  

The antagonist, Jack, is Kate’s ex-husband  and pure evil.   He makes his  entry early (Chapter Two) and really gave me the creeps.  Not only does Kate have health issues (the story opens with her having a  a heart attack),  but also has serial killer issues  with Jack - he’s hiding in the hospital Kate is taken to.  Nine lives indeed.  By the end of Chapter Two, you maybe asking yourself how the tension can last until the end, but it does.  Especially when the few  close people around her start  to be murdered …

The violence is minimal and ingeniously written.  There is some descriptive writing, obviously for the genre, but it is not over-gratuitous and brings out the empathy for Kate as well as those around her.  The following is from a scene where Jack had realised one of Kate's neighbours had noticed him hanging around and he managed to get into the neighbour's flat:

"He closed his eyes and lifted her head away from the blue patterned lino.  Her hands were clutching desperately at his sleeves, fluttering like baby bird's wings.  He thought of Kate and how much he missed her; the familiar mist seeped into his brain as he pounded the old woman's head against the floor repeatedly until her eyes closed and she stopped breathing. He left her lying there and went back to his van."

And there you have it.  The author keeps the mystery, the thrill right up there, weaving in and out of every word you read.  The characters that are vital to Kate’s story come to your attention so 
subtlety until suddenly, you wonder how they got there.  And how long they may last!

Whilst I felt the conclusion to The Ninth Life ended a tad too soon - I would have enjoyed a more drawn-out scene for the climax  - this does not deviate from the overall enjoyment of the book.   And besides, Kate’s story is a trilogy, thankfully. Book Two - The Last Life - picks  up and carries yet another tension-riddled read around Kate and her struggles.  Watch out for the review of  The Last  Life in the not-too-distant-future. 







As soon as I've completed Book 3 of the Trilogy, The Broken Life, I'll be posting about that too.




***

Look out for an Author Interview on the Blog with Jaye Marie shortly!







Jaye Marie’s blog and Facebook page as well as the link to The Ninth Life  can be found via  the links below.




Saturday, December 3, 2016

Diana talks to ... Sharon Bennett Connolly



Hi Sharon, we have known each other for ages but have never really talked about your work. I was delighted that Amberley asked you to write this book about Mediaeval Heroines. After following your blog, History - the Interesting Bits, I know they could not have chosen a better person to champion the lesser known women of this time.



If your latest book Heroines of the Medieval World was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

I guess it would be a documentary, so maybe Judy Dench presenting my Medieval Heroines? Or Helen Mirren. Dr Janina Ramirez would be fabulous – she’s so enthusiastic. And it would be nice to do something with Amy Licence - maybe she and I could co-present (I can dream). Although, having said that, Amy has a much better voice for television than me – I’ll probably just stand in the background trying to look intelligent.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

I would love to write a novel; I do have one in mind. Set in the 5/6th century, based on Ambrosius Aurelianus as King Arthur and set in my ‘home’ castle at Conisbrough. But we’ll have to see how I go. Maybe once ‘Heroines’ is published….

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I can’t stand writing in total silence. I have to have the radio on – or something. If its music, it will be Bryan Adams or the Eagles. If it’s Radio then it tends to be Radio 2, but there has to be something in the background (even if it’s my son’s Xbox)

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

I wouldn’t like to say - don’t want to upset anyone. I used to insist on reading books to the end – even ones I didn’t find enjoyable. But these days I’ve decided there are too many books and so little time, so now if a book doesn’t keep me interested I stop reading. The last one was a story about Lancelot which had too many Arthurian inaccuracies for me to find it believable and the plot was too linear, you always knew what was going to happen next.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

Owning and managing a castle – not just being a tour guide, but organising hands-on events, and ‘living in the medieval era’ weekends (although I think I would still want electricity, hot water and a working shower). I’ve got a feeling my son would love giving the guided tours too – he would certainly love living in a castle (as long as it has a resident dragon). My husband would probably be happy with it, but only if there is fibre broadband.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Black coffee, white wine.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

I like the simple fonts like calibri, but it would be interesting to read a book in an old-fashioned, italic font, just once in a while, wouldn’t it?

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

A confession from whoever killed – or ordered the deaths of – the Princes in the Tower. And an explanation of how it was done. Even if it turned out to be Richard III – it would stop most of the arguments on Facebook in an instant…. Or would it?  (No. They would still argue and (ahem) he would get bail!!)

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
I can’t do this with non-fiction, but I do have problems where we don’t know the actual facts, or a source was writing with an agenda, and I have to present all the theories and then choose the one that I think most likely and explain why.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Because I’m writing a non-fiction book you would expect not, wouldn’t you? But there are instances when you find that the facts are, in fact, different to the accepted ones; that a historical person’s character has been changed or exaggerated by the chroniclers. I think this happens a lot with women, especially when the chroniclers tended to be men – and monks at that! Many didn’t like women and blamed them for the ills of the world.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I find some of my Heroines more sympathetic than others, but I am trying to keep an open mind about all of them. I think they all deserve their stories telling in a sensitive light. The 2 that stick in my mind are Katherine Swynford and Alice Perrers; they were contemporaries and yet Katherine’s story is seen as true love and Alice is vilified as self-seeking and money-grabbing.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Historical fiction – Bernard Cornwell is my all-time favourite, but I have discovered some fabulous authors in recent years; Paula Lofting, Derek Birks, Toby Clements. I also love archaeological thrillers like Andy McDermott and David Gibbons, combining history and action.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

Ooh, I don’t know. I think you’ll probably need to keep a clear head while reading it, so a nice cappuccino and a slice of cake would probably be the ideal refreshement.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?

Bernard Cornwell for fiction, I’ve been a fan of his books since I was 12 and love the fact he releases one every year, just in time for my birthday. The hubby ALWAYS knows what present to get.

I like Amy Licence for non-fiction – she writes in such an accessible way, almost as if she’s sat talking to you in your living room.

 Bio: Sharon has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied history as part of her Class 2:1 BA (Hons) Combined Degree and has also worked as a tour guide at historical sites.

She has been writing a blog entitled ‘History… the Interesting Bits’ for almost two years and is currently writing a book entitled ‘Heroines of the Medieval World’ which is due for release in 2017, concentrating on the lesser known – but no less significant women and their contributions to medieval history.

© Diana Milne July 2016 © (Sharon Bennett Connolly, August 2016)

The Old Straight Tracks

Ley lines… You probably scoff at such things, as if it’s some new age pseudoscience spoken of by hippies on the festival trail in the seventies, but indulge me. For this post I want you to suspend your sense of disbelief for a short while, to open your mind to the possibility that perhaps our reality is not entirely as we have been programmed to perceive it. What if there is a mystery hidden in plain sight before us? Something so glaringly obvious and yet suppressed so that belief in it became of the realm of the unhinged?  (You’ll be pleased to know I don’t intend on going down some strange 1970’s avenue to link leylines to UFO’s – I may believe in fairies but I’m not entirely away with them! )

We humans like to see patterns in things, whether it’s making a familiar shape from the randomness of clouds, measuring the movement of the heavens as some form of clock or creating a face where there is none. Mere coincidence perhaps; however what if a coincidence keeps recurring?

The term “ley line” was coined by English amateur archaeologist, author and antiquarian Alfred Watkins, in 1921, who noticed that it is possible to draw a straight line on a map linking stone circles, burial mounds, geological features, churches and even crossroads. He used the term ley* lines but preferred to describe them as archaic roads or old straight tracks.  *Ley – OE for a clearing in a forest.
Alfred Watkins



Watkins wasn’t the first to notice alignments in the ancient landscape: In the 1740’s Dr William Stuckley proposed that there was an ancient geometric druidic pattern across the country. During the 1800’s William Black who made a study of Roman roads proposed that major landmarks were linked by grand geometric lines. However the suspicion of their existence precedes these dates and can be seen in different cultures: In Ireland there are “Fairy paths”, in Germany” Heilige Linien” (Holy Lines), in Peru “Spirit Lines”, in China “Dragon Lines” and “Song Paths” in the Australian Aborigine tradition. It was Watkins who first listed a guide for possible ley markers:

Mounds, Long-barrows, Cairns, Cursus, Dolmens, Standing stones, mark-stones, Stone circles, Henges, Water-markers (moats, ponds, springs, fords, wells), Castle, Beacon-hills, Churches, Cross-roads, Notches in hills, Camps (Hill-forts).”

To Watkins these lines were primarily for navigation across the once densely forested British landscape, providing a line of sight between prominent features, such as hilltop to hilltop. He argued that sacred sites would have sprung up along these tracks and later with the advent of Christianity churches would occupy such sites. It is interesting to note that many of these identified ley lines coincide with the notoriously straight Roman Roads which were built on existing trackways. Indeed some recent research points to a similar system of straight roads throughout the Celtic world which were in place prior to the Roman conquest. All these tracks seem to be linked to the solstice path of the Sun. Maybe a common religious belief allowed for these track ways to be maintained as they crossed different tribal boundaries and lands?

Perhaps the most famous British Ley line is the St Michael’s Leyline that starts at Lands’ End and links Glastonbury to Avebury. It follows the course of the sun on 8th May, celebrated as the Feast of St Michael by the Catholic Church. As stone circles could be used as astronomical tools and calendars it would follow that lines linking them would also follow some astronomical event.
St Michael Ley Line


It is perhaps due to skilful propaganda by Caesar and his successors that the image we have of the Celtic world is one of barbarian savagery and the druids as crazed priests with an unhealthy appetite for human sacrifice. Yet the reality may be very different as the Celts were a technologically advanced people. As well as fashioning jewellery of exquisite beauty they also invented mail armour, the Gallic helmet (which was adopted by the Romans), even the Roman word for chariot Carrum (from which we get car) was from the Gaulish word Karros. It has been mooted that European history would have been very different if the Celts had adopted the imperial outlook that the Romans did, but these were a people who prized the independence of their tribes and crucially did not have a tradition of writing. It should be noted however that the Celts were not megalith builders; which means that this system of tracks that they used may originate from around 7000 years ago.

So far all seems theoretically plausible, but what about the energy/spiritual aspect that ley lines are supposed to possess?

Folklore has it that houses in Ireland built on fairy paths will be cursed while in China there is the tradition of Feng Shui whereby the flow of dragon currents are utilised to promote harmony in a house or to encourage the fertility of fields. It may well be that this could be linked to the earth’s magnetic field in some way. With the advent of the 60s/70’s New Age movement, many ley hunters took to dowsing in an attempt to map out the Ley network.

But what if they are something else, perhaps a different, older form of human consciousness that is common to all cultures?

In middle and South America we have an indigenous culture that we have records of as it was still active up to 600 years ago before the arrival of the Conquistadors. Throughout the area there are arrow-straight roads, so called “spirit paths”.  If they change direction they do suddenly with a sharp angle, they have no curving bends. NASA satellite surveys have also found these roads in jungle areas, running straight through and over difficult terrain. The roads themselves sometimes link ancient cites and temples but also can terminate at caves or even cliff faces. Investigation pointed to these being “death roads” that is the dead would be transported along these roads for ceremonial burial in cemeteries. As well as being roads for the transport of mortal remains they were also supposed to be roads for the spirits of the departed toward the next world.

These can be compared to Bronze Age standing stone avenues in Europe linking burial mounds, and also even older earthen Neolithic roads called cursuses.  These can be viewed traversing crop fields from the air. Some of these “Death roads“  were used up until the Medieval period in Scandinavia and the Netherlands and are noted for their straightness.

If we return to the Americas and the high deserts of Peru we find the famous Nazca Lines. When we mention Nazca we think of the geoglyphs (ground drawings) of animals and birds marked out by stones on the desert floor, these are remarkable as the monumental scale of them is only truly apparent from the air. However, as well as the geoglyphs, there are lines both at Nazca and also in Bolivia and Chile. These lines are absolutely straight and can be 20 miles in length.

Nazca Geoglyph and lines


The purpose to the Nazca lines as long been the source of conjecture - but I think we can safely ignore the theory by Erich Von Daniken that they are landing strips for ancient astronauts! However in 1977 anthropologist  Marlene Dobkin de Rios theorised, which was later expanded by Paul Devereux and others,  that the whole landscape of lines and images may have a shamanistic origin. She noted that the areas where these lines were found coincided with where tribes used a certain hallucinogenic cactus used to obtain trance induced visions and experience a “spirit-flight”. There is a common imagery of entopic patterns that all humans see when in a trance-like state which can be seen in the cave art of Europe and Australia. The stylised animals of Nazca could be similar to cave paintings, but on a much grander scale, produced by an organised society.

So perhaps ley lines are indeed the means of navigation for both the living and the dead through a prehistoric landscape and have no magical power other than having originated from our shared human shamanistic past… but…

I keep thinking about coincidence again and so will return to St Michael’s ley line. Yes we know it follows the course of the Sun on St Michael’s Spring feast day on 8th May.  Not to be confused with Michaelmas in September, this date supposedly commemorates the apparition of the Archangel St Michael on Mount Gargano in southern Italy in the C6th, then on 8th May 100 years later in 663AD the invocation of St Michael ensured a victory by the Lombard defenders of Sipontum against besieging Byzantine forces. A shrine was built where the saint appeared and Pope Pius V made May 8th a feast Day in the C16th.

The Archangel St Michael holds a special position in Roman Catholic teachings; he is said to command God’s armies against Satan’s. According to the Book of Revelations it was Michael in his role as God’s general who defeated Lucifer, who had taken the form of a dragon, and cast him and his followers from heaven. St Michael is also said to carry the souls of the deceased to heaven and weigh the worthiness of each soul, offering the chance of redemption. Do we have an echo of spirit paths here or is it coincidence?

But there’s more, this ley line begins at Land’s End and intersects St Michaels Mount in Cornwall on its way to Avebury and beyond. Indeed the churches that this line intersects or passes closely to are all those dedicated to the Archangel, including the ruined church atop Glastonbury Tor and its smaller mirror image at Burrow Mump, both in Somerset. Coincidence, or is this the church imposing its authority over earthly powers by invoking God’s general?

Of course this is pseudoscience; the British countryside is full of sites of antiquity, after all. Draw a line anywhere and you are likely to be able to link any number of them. The number of churches dedicated to St Michael linked by it has to be mere coincidence, doesn’t it?


But here’s some fun; take a map of Europe and draw a line on a SE-NW axis between St Michael’s Mount on Cornwall and Mont St Michel in Normandy. Let’s now extend this line North West first and it barely touches Ireland but it hits a small island SE of it called Skellig Michael; famous for its remote monastery. There are three Michaels already, anyway lets extend SE and see what we can find. If we keep it going it runs down Italy and hits a certain Mount Gargano… the shrine built to commemorate the appearance of the saint. Of course it had to! If we continue SE we go through the Shrine of Delphi and on to Mount Carmel in Israel.  Some of the lower slopes form the hill called Har-Meggido, although you might know its better known name of Armageddon. Wasn’t the final battle between good vs Evil supposed to take place there? I wonder if St Michael is supposed to be involved?  

St Michael/Apollo Axis

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.


Sources:
P Devereux & I Thomson: The Ley Hunters Companion 1979
A Watkins : The Ley Hunters Manuel 1989
For further reading please visit: www.pauldevereux.co.uk